Let's just stop for a moment and stare nakedly at the dark secret that mothers harbor in this season of light and love. It's something we rarely admit to themselves, let alone our kids. You know what I'm talking about. It happened to us as children and we hated it. But somehow, we conveniently forgot the fear once we became parents.
Devil in a Red Suit
Mom was the one who wanted your picture taken with Santa. Not you. You didn't want to sit on that creepy old guy's lap, right?
Two moms - Denise Joyce and Nancy Watkins - acknowledge the unspeakable in Scared of Santa: Scenes of Terror in Toyland, a compact collection of over 250 photos of children screaming for their lives in the clutches of the jolly old elf himself. Covering over 75 years of humiliation and fear, the photos range from tiny toddler terror to jaded preteen boredom, with a couple of inert pets thrown in for good measure.
How did they amass what they describe as this "get-me-outta-here gallery"? It helps that Joyce and Watkins are editors at the Chicago Tribune and that this book has been years in the making.
In 2003 and 2006, a feature in the Tribune's "Q" section asked readers to send in photos of frightened children with Santa. After hundreds were received, the best were posted at the Tribune's website, where they generated close to 30% of the total visits to the paper's website for the year.
Be Afraid...Be Very Afraid.
There's this gem (at right) from page 100, where an unnervingly catatonic Santa stares off-camera into nothingness while four siblings pose warily:
Could Somebody Check Santa's Pulse?Or an anecdote from page 249 that accompanies a vintage Christmas black-and-white photo postcard:
Note how the closer the children are to Santa, the more scared they are. In descending order of fear, Olivia, Aric, Andrew, and Amanda Arduini, 1979. Sent by mom Jan.
Jingle All the Way...To Hell
Patsy (left) and Diane Slager, circa 1935. "My mother recalls that the man had a red nose and alcohol on his breath," writes Patsy's daughter, Jane Rix. We're shocked. Shocked.
"Whatever They Pay Santa, It Isn't Enough"
Now teenagers, my kids got just as much of a kick out of this book as I did. (But they still find Santa disconcertingly creepy.)
In the end, after viewing the photos and reading hundreds of tales of tortuous Santa visits, the authors acknowledge that "Whatever they pay Santa, it isn't enough."
You're Crying Now, But You'll Thank Me Later
Scared of Santa: Scenes of Terror in Toyland
by Denise Joyce and Nancy Watkins
Paperback, 274pp. ISBN: 978-0-06-149099-6
Harper October 2008